Mpls. officials say voting machines good to go on Election Day

Testing the election equipment.
Joan Curtis (center) examines a test ballot and Merle Davis works through a checklist as election officials conduct a public election equipment test in northeast Minneapolis on Tuesday. It is part of a mandatory check ahead of the general election.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minneapolis election officials on Tuesday ran a public test of the voting equipment that will count ballots next week in the city's 132 precincts. But while it was meant to promote confidence in the system, some critics say it's not enough.

The so-called "public accuracy test" counts sample ballots with all the potential combinations of measures and offices that voters will decide. The law requires elections officials to publicly demonstrate the polling equipment sometime in the two weeks before voting starts. Bloomington and New Brighton also conducted similar tests; Ramsey County ran theirs last Friday.

"It's a public event for anyone who wishes to observe, to certify and verify and ensure integrity and confidence that our machines are accurate and tabulate all the votes cast accurately on Election Day," said Grace Wachlarowicz, director of elections and voter services in Minneapolis.

It comes with unprecedented scrutiny on the elections process, as GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has charged repeatedly that the election is "rigged" and urged supporters to go to the polls and watch the voting process, which isn't actually allowed in Minnesota.

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Candidates and parties can name poll challengers, but their role is strictly limited by law and they aren't allowed, for instance, to confront voters or track who is voting.

Peter Hall, right, and Susan Bratt examine a test ballot.
Peter Hall, right, and Susan Bratt examine a test ballot as election officials conduct a public election equipment test in northeast Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The voting also comes as the presidential race has been buffeted by repeated breaches of internet security that have revealed inside information, particularly from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign. Federal officials reportedly suspect Russian hackers are behind the leaks that have been made public by WikiLeaks.

Wachlarowicz said Minnesota has an extra measure of security — the preservation of the ballots actually marked by voters, giving elections officials a fail-safe record of what happens while the polls are open.

"In elections, integrity and accuracy are for every election, not just this one," Wachlarowicz says. "Before this day, we go through and we test every single machine twice with pre-voted ballots to make sure the votes cast match what we anticipated, to make sure every vote cast on election day is accurate."

Still critics say Minnesota has lingering voting fraud issues.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance has a case before the Minnesota Supreme Court charging that more than 1,000 ineligible felons have cast ineligible votes in recent elections -- possibly more than the 312 vote margin that separated Al Franken and Norm Coleman in the historically close 2008 U.S. Senate race.

Peter Nelson, a researcher with the conservative Center of the American Experiment, said the state's voting laws still make it too easy for non-eligible voters, such as felons, non-residents or non-citizens, to assure election officials that they're in compliance with the law rather than showing definitive proof.

Nelson said he thinks there is interest in the state in allowing some access for poll watchers, but he doesn't know whether there's a critical mass of people who actually want to do it.

"I get a sense that people are not satisfied with the observance of elections," he added. "But does that translate for a demand to be a challenger at the polls? I don't know if I see that."